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When the cops fail, call Bengal tiger

Sofia, Jan. 6: A retired Bul- garian general has adopted a novel way of deterring burglars following a spate of bre- ak-ins — he has bought a tiger cub called Raja to guard his home.

The tactic has been a rem-arkable success.

Raja, who is now almost a year old and already weighs 200 pounds, has frightened off the criminals that threatened not just the home of General Kostadin Kostadinov, but the entire village of Selisten dol, 25 miles west of the capital Sofia.

It has single-handedly en- ded the local crime wave and there has not been a single burglary since its arrival six months ago.

Villagers are so grateful that they recently held a party to honour its achievement and Raja was made the guest of honour on the occasion.

Residents initially greeted the Bengal tiger cub’s appearance with consternation as it prowled unchained around the general’s front garden.

Now, however, they boast to the steady flow of visitors attracted to Selisten dol by Raja’s growing fame that it is a better deterrent against thieves than the overworked and ill-equipped police, who often take hours to answer emerg- ency calls.

Locals say that the 51-year-old general’s pet has been so effective that the only people eyeing up his house now are curious onlookers.

Signs around the village announce its presence with the intimidating warning: “Pazete Se Ot Tigara (Beware of the Tiger)”.

Raja was bought from Sofia Zoo for £350 and has grown up in the Kostadinov household, where it lives peaceably — so far, at least — with the general’s four pet cats and four dogs.

Keeping a tiger as a pet is unheard of in Bulgaria but has proved popular elsewhere, particularly in America: Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson are among those who have fallen for the fad.

The Humane Society of the US estimates that there are 10,000 wild cats in private hands across the country. It believes that 5,000 of those are tigers, the same number as exists in the wild around the world.

The practice has been condemned by animal rights and conservation groups — and it is also not without its hazards: at least seven people have been killed by tigers in the US in the past four years.

Such concerns are far from the minds of the 500 people of Selisten dol, where the view of Petar Milanov, a neighbour of Gen Kostadinov, is typical.

“We’d had big problems with the burglars, but not any more. Although Raja is still quite young she can really let out a roar,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say we’ll never see any burglars again but it’s good to have Raja around. Burglars must think twice before they try anything here — we have had no problems now for six months, which proves that Raja works.”

The Bulgarian police have been impressed by the unusual approach to the problem of burglary in the village.

Todor Gerchev Dimitrov, a local police officer, said: “Many people, especially in villages, already use dogs as protection against criminals. Protecting a house with a tiger is just a sign of the rising number of crimes in the country. People are looking for larger animals to protect them against the higher rates of crime.”

However, the unusual crime-busting tactic of using a tiger as an “exotic guard-dog” was condemned by the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

“It’s totally unacceptable for a wild animal to be kept in someone’s home,” said Jonathan Owen, a society spokesman. “It’s certainly bad for the animal and potentially dangerous for the owner. There is no rationale for keeping a tiger as a deterrent for burglary.”

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